Let’s keep popping sparkling wines

Author: Marco Negro

Racounting the consumption of sparkling wines at the end of a long summer season demands a reflective style. How have the sales of “bubbles” been in the past few months? Does the seemingly unstoppable growth in “out-of-home” consumption continue? Is it true that Champagne producers are struggling to keep up with the growing demand?

Landscape in Cramant, with vineyards and housing

The consumption of the entire category, which includes generic sparkling wines, Prosecco, Metodo Classico versions of some Docg wines, and Champagne Aoc, has been steadily increasing month after month for years. Recently, the first signs of slowdown are being felt, data that, however, should be interpreted in the broader context of inflation and the consequent reduction in household consumption. Analyses of sales results must also take into account changes in the social habits of Italians.

Consumption outside home

The Italian trend seems to be reacting to inflation by modifying the composition of the shopping cart. Many brands are struggling; in contrast, consumption of private label products from chains, the so-called “private labels,” is on the rise. It seems that what families save in large-scale retail is then spent outside the home. A general look at various statistical data sources outlines an average decrease in meals at home by around -10% compared to the beginning of the millennium. The Studies Office of Confcommercio states that the annual food expenditure of the average Italian family has decreased from €5,311 in 2007 to €4,852 in 2023. During the same period, the average family has increased spending on restaurant consumption from €1,588 to €1,656 per year. Italians are paying more and more for “out-of-home” food consumption. Explaining the ongoing change in the social habits of the beautiful country, Dr. Bruna Boroni, consultant at Trade Lab, reported in an interview with Wine News that “Italians no longer seem willing to give up that happiness and leisure moment experienced outside the home. So, perhaps, they save something at home to save the budget for going out”.

Landscape in Champagne, with 2 glass of sparkling wine in the foreground

The purchasing power of families is decreasing, the national GDP is not recovering, but the consumption of sparkling wines increased by 21% last year compared to the previous year. The analysis of data by sales segments shows a slowdown in sparkling wines in the large-scale retail channel; in short, restaurant consumption has regained the space lost during the pandemic. The phenomenon of online sales has also deflated. Italians continue to buy bottles in virtual stores, more than before Covid, but obviously not as much as in the two pandemic years. The segment that holds up well in e-commerce is that of “large bottles”: excellent red wines and Champagne.

New consumption styles

Dining is changing, maturing, evolving. Often, genres end up contaminating each other. In the 1980s, there were restaurants, often sumptuous, where professionals and entrepreneurs met during the week, and where families would go on weekends. There were also pizzerias, where you could enjoy pizza and beer while spending very little (the strange pairing originated due to licensing issues; pizzerias only received a license for serving alcoholic beverages below 8% alc). Today, the average offering in any provincial town is very diverse, with a certain fluidity between genres. Pizzerias specialize in high-quality meat grilling, trattorias reinterpret traditional dishes with high-class mise en place and service, small restaurants specialize in cuisine from distant countries, and many places where the main actors are wine, sparkling wines, and cocktails.

Detail of a sparkling wine stopper

Even the average Italian has changed, with the integration of many foreign family units and thanks to the second generation of immigrant families, young adults now born in Italy. Their tastes have “Italianized,” but in a moment of strong change for Italian cuisine. The kaleidoscope of opportunities to spend time with friends, clients, and suppliers, life partners, natural or extended families, has also contributed to changing the approach to dining. Less formality, a more casual and cross-cutting dress style, greater open-mindedness, and a willingness to try new things. The wines that play a leading role in this social evolution are white wines and sparkling wines, ideal for accompanying this fluidity of genres in culinary proposals. Sparkling wines represent the moment in the day when one can afford to “unplug”. Hence their success during the aperitif hours, which has become one of the most important “meals” for many consumers and a decisive source of revenue for various operators. Sparkling wines, in all their variations, from modest to more complex ones, also pair well with some delicacies that come from the kitchen. Fortunately, sparkling wine is no longer confined only to celebratory moments but appears on terraces and in wine bars, as well as throughout the entire dining scene. A true upheaval in the consumption style has occurred for the icon of bubbles, Champagne.

Landscape in Champagne, Cote des bar

Has champagne run out?

It’s a piece of news echoed by multiple sources and worth delving into. Italy is the fourth-largest country in terms of Champagne Doc bottle exports. David Chatillon, co-president of the Comité Champagne, confirms that last year, over 10.5 million bottles crossed the Alps to Italy—a growth of 11.5%, with a 19.1% increase in value. Net of inflation increases, it’s evident that the average value of imported bottles has also risen.

Landscape in Champagne, Vernezay, with vineyards and a mill

Italians love to taste and talk about wine. They crowd numerous amateur courses, discuss among themselves, educate themselves, attend tasting events, and visit territories and producing companies. Even when it comes to Champagne Doc, the Italian consumer proves to be curious yet knowledgeable, easily interested in the stories of historic houses as well as the stimuli from young vignerons.

The French appellation is so successful on all global markets that it triggers the alarm, “mon dieu, Champagne is running out!”. French sparkling wine, with its second fermentation in the bottle, is a wine that requires a long time before distribution. Many cuvées are also blended with vintage reserve wines, with extremely limited availability. Despite the growing global demand for several years, the number of available bottles remains roughly the same. Italian distributors receive a determined number of bottles for each cuvée and must, in turn, allocate a predetermined number to each customer (restaurant or wine shop). This is enough to say that the French system is struggling to keep up with the constant growth trend.

Champagne Consumption Has Definitively Shifted

Champagne consumption has unmistakably distanced itself from the iconic habits of the “boomer” generation, namely, making an impression on dining companions or celebrating an event. Champagne Doc is a wine, and Italians have grasped that. They use it as such, even choosing it for “by-the-glass” service to accompany express cuisine or gastronomic delights. The interest of the “Generation Z” is extraordinary; perhaps we owe the renewal of the consumption style of this excellence precisely to them. Consumers want to better understand the classified Grand Cru villages, the use of reserve wines, and the characteristics of many cuvées. Today, Italian Champagne consumers are aware that each maison has crafted a stylistic signature passed down like a personal and inimitable mark. Similarly, there is curiosity and a desire to understand the human element that characterizes the bottles of small vignerons.

Pupitres of Champagne bottles

The growing interest in wine with bubbles encourages more and more producers, including agricultural companies, to experiment with vinifying native varieties in white and then creating a sparkling version. Of course, not all grape varieties and territories are suited; time will tell.

10th September 2023,

Marco Negro

Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.
Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.

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